Meet Ifeyinwa and Emeka, Founders of Tottenham's Chuku's
London-born Ifeyinwa and Emeka Frederick grew up eating bowls of their grandmother’s egusi and tucking into jollof rice with family.
But the brother and sister wanted to go to a restaurant where they could share those Nigerian flavours with friends. So they made one. Chuku’s opened in Tottenham in 2020 with a tapas menu that’s as much about the feel-good, social side of Nigerian dining culture as it is the chicken ata dindin and chin chin cheesecake.
So why the High Road? “People care about the area they live in,” says Ifey. “The community atmosphere is tangible.” Far from pushing out existing retailers with a swanky new restaurant, Chuku’s always-packed diner has kickstarted a mural project that runs the length of the street.
Chatting about the stories behind the sharing plates, the brother and sister tell us about the meaning behind Chuku’s, finding the perfect space and a few of their signature dishes.
Tell us about your memories of food growing up. Has it always been a big part of your life?
Ifeyinwa (I): My memories about people I love are tied in with food memories – what we’ve eaten, how we’ve shared it, the time spent together. Especially family celebrations.
Emeka (E): Both of our grandmas’ dishes bring back fond memories. We’re half Nigerian, half Grenadian, and our Grenadian gran would make her own fried chicken with chips from M&S. When I was at boarding school I’d long for egusi – a Nigerian melon-seed stew with spinach and palm oil, it has amazing flavour. That and eba or ground rice.
How did the idea for Chuku’s come about?
E: We wanted to make Nigerian flavours and its warm, social dining culture accessible. Both of us had lived abroad – Ifey in the French Caribbean and me in Spain, where I’d eaten a lot of tapas. Sharing small plates seemed to encapsulate everything we wanted to achieve. We’re still paying homage to Nigerian hospitality, but tapas helps communicate what we were trying to do.
Where did the name Chuku’s come from?
I: Chuku’s comes from Emeka’s full name, Chukwemeka. It means “god has done well” in Igbo, our maternal grandmother’s language. But it wasn’t that we named the restaurant for spiritual reasons. Chuku’s is inspired by the idea of welcoming someone into your home. We wanted a personal name, in the same way you might say “oh I’m going to a friend's house, to Fred’s or Sam’s”. Nigerian culture revolves around hospitality. Emeka and I had to learn how to run a restaurant, but the hospitality element we learned growing up.
How would you describe your menus? Do you have any signature dishes?
I:. Some dishes are traditional, like what we ate growing up; in others, we take a Nigerian flavour or ingredient and play with it – like our jollof quinoa.
E: One of the key pillars of Nigerian food is rich stews made from native nuts or seeds, mixed with dark green leaves, and swallows – dumplings made with starchy vegetables, like cassava, yam, even plantain. Egusi was my childhood favourite and is one of my favourite dishes on the menu today.
Tell us about your journey from pop-up to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. You spent three and a half years finding the perfect site…
I: At first, we were looking at sites all over London. But the more we saw, the more we realised what we really wanted from a location – and that was community. We wanted to be a neighbourhood restaurant that would serve the community that could feel proud of what we were bringing into their area.
Why Tottenham’s High Road?
E: Being on the high street was important to us in terms of accessibility. We didn’t want to be exclusive and tucked away in a back alley. We wanted to be out there, a beacon of pride for the local and the Nigerian community. As young Black business owners, we want to instil inspiration and pride in the kids from the college opposite – especially kids from the Black community.
The site was quite run down when you got the keys. Talk us through the transformation. What inspired the design?
I: We didn’t want a cut-and-paste restaurant with Nigerian food on the table. We wanted a design that went beyond menus to celebrate Nigeria’s warm, welcoming culture, but without being pastiche. The space is inspired by the traditional adobe, its colours and building materials, with traditional art and proverbs on the walls.
How does your ‘chop, chat, chill’ ethos come to life in the restaurant?
I: It’s palatable energy. One of my favourite things is hearing a ridiculously loud laugh break through the restaurant. You just know someone’s having a good time – that’s what everyone’s here for. I love hearing our team share jokes with guests, or one table lean over to another and say “what are you having?”. It feels so good in there.